“Sometimes good men have to do bad things to make the world brighter,” Admiral Havelock says in attempts to calm my nerves. He is about to send my character out on an assassination mission.
But at this point, it feels like he’s talking right passed my character and straight to me.
The first mission begins as I step out of the makeshift motor boat of a fellow member of the Loyalists rebellion. The look of the world is cartoonish, exaggerated, and steampunk. The smoke of industry rises on the shores across the water behind me as the towers of government, technology, and power lie ahead. Tyranny has taken hold of the city of Dunwall.
Our protagonist, Corvo — the character through whose eyes I see the world — was framed for murdering the Empress in the opening chapters of the story. Months later, when the power-hungry military and religious leaders have taken over, he escapes his execution and is brought onto the side of the Loyalist rebellion.
Up the dark alleyways walk various NPCs — some neutral and some hostile. Wrapped bodies line the sidewalks — victims of a supposed plague that I’ve heard about. I sneak up against some rubble, holding my breathe as an armed soldier walks by. A couple shots from his pistol and I’m back on the boat.
I pay attention to the guard’s movement pattern, waiting for a moment when I can sneak up behind him, not knowing exactly what I’ll be able to do when I get up to him. As I approach him three visual options appear on the screen: one involving a blade around his neck, the other involving an arm around his neck, and the last being an option to pickpocket him. I start to panic. I haven’t thought about how I want to play the game. Should I try playing as a pacifist in a game where I am supposed to be an assassin? That would be the right thing to do, right?
Dishonored is supposed to be a game about choices. But when I approach a character in the game I can’t ask him if he has a family or persuade him to join the Loyalists. There is no “love your enemies” option.
As I continue sneaking behind the guard, I look down and notice that I can’t see my feet. In fact, up till that point I still hadn’t ever seen what Corvo looks like. Dishonored does its best to remove any room for emotional detachment between myself and Corvo. His decisions and choices are mine. We aren’t so different.
As I am fumbling through the moral consequences and ethical choices in my head, the guard slows down his walk and comes to a stop. I go for the stranglehold, but the guard turns toward me at the last second, the attention meter going off above his head. He begins to pull out his pistol from beneath his cloak. I indulge my gut reaction: to slam my finger down on the right trigger. Corvo goes lunging toward his opponent, blade in hand. The sword digs right into his neck as a fountain of blood follows his body to the cold ground. Seeing another guard up ahead, I lift his corpse over my shoulder and look for a place to stash the body. I find a spot in an alley next to a mound of wrapped bodies and hungry rats.
A couple hours later, I return back to the Loyalist home base having completed my mission. I have successfully assassinated one of the key leaders behind the military coup. Dunwall was one step closer to peace and prosperity. Admiral Havelock congratulates me. I am the hero. I have the upgrades and completed objectives list to prove it.
As I step off the motorized boat and back onto shore, a familiar young woman stops me. It’s a cut scene. I can’t get out of it. She sort of looks like someone I know in real life. I remember that at the beginning of the mission I had promised her that I would protect her uncle, who was a prisoner of the man I had assassinated. As the high ranking official who once held the title of “Lord Protector”, she thought I might be able to help.
A look of sorrow and disappointment shadows her face. “You didn’t protect him did you? You didn’t save him?”
I am speechless. Honestly, I didn’t even remember running into her uncle on the mission.
“I don’t know why I thought I could trust you,” she sighs.
There was no option to say anything back.